Launching any new product is fraught with risks. Focussing on just the ‘top 5 risks to mitigate’ when launching a website is, itself, a risk.  It is a good start, but it is just a start. It is considered best practice to exercise a full and comprehensive risk assessment for any online venture.  Risks that have materialised become an issues (with a material impact) needing resolution. Depending on the type of risk, it’s impact (to the project and/or business) the priority for resolution will vary. Given the complexity and interconnectivity of online services and websites these days it is virtually impossible to eliminate all risks.  However, there are some categories of risk that tend to be more likely to materialise and/or will have a bigger material impact. I have outlined in the table (on this web-page) what I see as the top 5 risks to mitigate when launching new websites and online services.

When properly managed these risks can be virtually eliminated. To this point, effective risk management will track and control following:

  • Likelihood of the event occurring (and becoming an issue) is approaching nought.
  • Impact (to the project or business or brand) is approaching none.

Getting in deeper

The  360° chart below illustrates scope of change that I would expect to be briefed for online product or service launches. With any change to a system or an operating model, there is a level of risk that must be assessed and managed as deemed appropriate. Everything identified in that chart will have to be tested  both by itself (in isolation) and within the context of an end-to-end transaction.    For example, if ]there is a form on a website captures some data entry and generates an email, then testing will be required on the form (each field), back data management, ta corresponding notification or alert (as a result o the for creation) and any other subsequent action. We will need to test the accuracy and format of the email content, the send and receive process, and so on.

So for most projects,  the concept of focusing  on the ‘top 5 risks to mitigate’  is at best just a starting point.

I recommend preparing a 1 page ‘Charter’ that summarises the desired outcomes, scope, the approach and delivery principles, dates and other constrains and references the governance.  This kind of project document is a useful way to kick things off with a group key business stakeholders. At the same meeting we can take first look at the top five risks, perhaps sharing confirming who is best placed to mitiage the risks in arch area.

Then I’d recommend reaching out to the person(s) responsible for each area identified in the chart below and convening a  ‘Risk management kick-off’ meeting around a white board, as soon as possible.

Thinking about how things will be tested as early as possible in the lifecycle is good practice.  Acceptance  test strategy and plans must cover all aspects of the web experience, underlying platform and solution architecture, all integration points and internal and external dependencies. This work is often underestimated and under resourced.   I’ve also found it useful to run a transition planning workshop with key stakeholders early in the project life-cycle to ensure that all are fully briefed and risks are surfaced and can be managed.

The role of of a ‘Test Manager’ is pivotal.  IT is good practice to on-board a test manager during the design stage of the project with the remit to confirm scope, test plans and recruit the test team as needed.  Specific launch criteria are defined in advance of any launch, such that the launch will only proceed when acceptable test results have been met.

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 360° scope of work for online product launch

Selecting the right type of launch for the new online products services will massively help reduce the risk profile. Here are some variations I have used with great results for different clients:

  • Soft launches, keeping things low-key and testing the consumer response with beta releases.
  • Public facing proof of concepts, carefully tracking all user responses to inform the ongoing technical and design optimisation in advance of the of the full solution go-live.
  • Single full launch with no additional advertising or marketing.
  • Hard (high profile public) launches involving full TV, press, radio, billboard/hoarding coverage and online campaigns including social media.
  • Phased launches (instead of a ‘single full launch) start with ‘minimum viable’ product and iteratively add more features and functionality to an incrementally wider demographic over multiple releases.

The role of of a ‘Test Manager’ is pivotal.  IT is good practice to on-board a test manager during the design stage of the project with the remit to confirm scope, test plans and recruit the test team as needed.  Specific launch criteria are defined in advance of any launch, such that the launch will only proceed when acceptable test results have been met.  Different types of testing I routinely apply (pre-launch) include :

  • Usability testing (to optimise the design).
  • Technical testing (system, build, integration.
  • Non-functional/NFR testing including  load, performance, security).
  • User acceptance testing (functional testing against defined  requirements).

Online performance is always at risk when changes are made to digital products and services.   It’s useful to understand what could cause a negative impact to each of of the areas below. By understanding, for example, what could cause ‘search’ to stop working properly we may be in a position to mitigate the risk completely. In other areas is will simply be helpful to review the material impact if things don’t go to plan and determining the mitigating actions that can be considered to deflect the risk, i.e. perhaps launch the marketing campaign at another time:

  • Search.
  • Affiliates.
  • Display advertising.
  • Real time bidding / demand-side platforms.
  • Social campaigns.
  • Email marketing.

Conclusion

Applying  best practice to any new online product, service or website launch is the way forward,  i.e. confirming scope and outcomes, delivery principles,  prioritise the road-map and roll-out plans, set up the governance, management and operational processes to ensure successful transition, which ever launch permutation is chosen.  With these cornerstone elements in place it will be possible to put an effective risk management process in place that works for your project.

Thank you for your attention and good-luck with your next website launch!